Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) has long been assumed to play a causative role in glaucomatous damage to the optic nerve head (ONH). There is compelling evidence to suggest that patients of African descent are at much greater risk for the onset and progression of glaucomatous damage at elevated levels of IOP. In this proposal, we test the hypothesis that racial differences in optic nerve head (ONH) biomechanics importantly contribute to this difference in risk. It is still unclear, however, how IOP triggers the cascade of events that lead to retinal ganglion cell death. Using three-dimensional (3D) reconstructions of the ONH, and principles of biomechanical engineering, we have studied the mechanical effects of elevated IOP in glaucoma. However, the relationship between African ancestry and the mechanical effects of elevated IOP is still unclear. How do racial variations in ONH structure and biomechanics increase its susceptibility to IOP? Is the robustness of the ONH connective tissues the key to understanding individual susceptibility to glaucoma? What role does the structural stiffness of the lamina cribrosa and peripapillary sclera play in the increased risk for glaucomatous progression in patients of African descent? To answer these questions, we will use novel methods to elucidate the relationship between ancestry and the IOP-induced deformation of ONH connective tissues. By """"""""ONH biomechanics"""""""" we mean the interactions between IOP and connective tissue structural stiffness (the combination of tissue architecture and material properties) in the ONH and peripapillary sclera. The immediate goals of this project are to characterize racial variations in ONH biomechanics and elucidate their effects on ONH susceptibility. Our long-term goal is to develop clinical diagnostics and interventions designed to manage each important biomechanical risk factor in the development and progression of glaucoma. To accomplish our immediate goals, we will build digital three-dimensional reconstructions of human ONH tissues from donors of African and European descent, quantify the ONH connective tissue architecture within each reconstruction, and build computational finite element models of the ONH connective tissues to estimate their biomechanical response to normal and elevated levels of IOP.

Public Health Relevance

Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) has long been assumed to play a causative role in glaucomatous damage to the optic nerve head (ONH), and patients of African descent have higher risk of development and progression of the disease. We propose to measure the racial variation in ONH structure and IOP-induced biomechanical response. Then, using the principles of biomechanical engineering, we will use these data to create computational models of the age-related mechanical effects of elevated IOP on the ONH to elucidate the link between African ancestry and glaucomatous susceptibility.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
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Anterior Eye Disease Study Section (AED)
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Agarwal, Neeraj
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Emanuel Hospital and Health Center
United States
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